“AHEC is a well-established program, and its mission to provide opportunities for students to learn in diverse areas, particularly rural, less populated areas of the states,” Blouin said. "MAHEC happens to be one of the sites, and Asheville is the home of MAHEC for which educational and service programs are based out of.”
According to a recent annual report published by MAHEC, 16 counties in Western North Carolina are in shortage of primary health care professionals; six of those counties even lack a psychiatrist.
“The purpose of the building is to improve care and health care education for citizens of the western part of the state, where access to health care is very limited in some of the rural areas,” Heck said. “The goal is to increase the number of health care practitioners who can be trained and who likely would reside and practice in that part of the state.”
Multiple health science schools at UNC have offered significant resources in this cause.
“If you’re thinking about how do you maximize the health care of patients, it’s to have all the health care practitioners working together,” Blouin said. “What the state is doing is expanding the scope of the program to add greater interprofessional education to support interprofessional health care models. (The schools of) medicine, pharmacy, public health, along with nursing and dentistry are working together in a highly interdisciplinary environment, and we’re very proud of it.”
The building will house programs such as a new school of medicine and new school of public health, which has recently offered a Masters in Public Health, said Michelle Morgan, director of Marketing and Communications at MAHEC.
“MAHEC will also include a Department of Psychiatry," Heck said. “Funding from the state has allowed us to grow substantially and add new programs like dentistry.”
While the faculty working at the new building will be affiliated with UNC, other students at MAHEC have also enrolled in residency programs, post-graduation from medical school or pharmacy school, Heck said.
Heck said the UNC health sciences programs enabled MAHEC to train more medical, pharmacy and public health students from local universities, including Western Carolina University and UNC-Asheville.
“We believe that we will have a sort of pipeline that goes directly from those colleges to those health sciences programs,” Heck said. “Because of the development of health sciences here, we’ll be able to have more teaching practices that are actually out in the most rural communities. And hopefully the students see the joy of practicing in the rural areas.”